If you need to improve communication skills in a relationship, that can feel like a big, overwhelming task. But it's one that has to happen, because it makes every part of your relationship better. "Without a doubt, communication is the most important skill to have in any relationship," Dr. Michele Kerulis, relationships and dating expert and professor at Counseling@Northwestern tells Bustle. "Communication allows us to voice our basic needs to others and also provides opportunities to approach topics like sex and romance, stress management, and conflict resolution."
It's crucial to a relationship — but it's also a really easy thing to tweak. So don't be stressed if you feel like you're not communicating properly. Because the thing about communication that you need to remember is that it's the little things that make a huge difference. Yes, it's really important to be able to disagree and fight well. In fact, being able to fight in a compassionate way can save a relationship. But if your daily communication skills are on point, then actually those big conversations aren't so scary. Because you know you have the skills to reach each other and you do it before any issue gets out of control.
So focus on the day-to-day things. Here are little ways you can make your communication skills a lot better:
1. Ask How They Are Daily
Check in every day. Asking "How are you? How was your day?" will not only keep you in touch and in sync, it'll help keep you in the habit of communicating with each other.
2. Never Assume
It's easy to get worked up in your own head about something, but never actually reach out to the other person. "Assumptions and mind reading usually lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings," Sameera Sullivan, psychologist and founder of Lasting Connections, tells Bustle. Never assume you know what they're thinking— reach out instead.
3. Listen, Listen, Listen
Communication isn't just about talking, it's about being an active listener. Who is an active listener? "[They] listen to what their partner says, rather than get defensive without understanding the partner’s point of view or where they’re coming from," Janet Zinn, a New York City–based couples therapist, tells Bustle. So make sure you're really in the moment.
4. Don't Nitpick
Little digs can build up. If you have a problem, say it. Don't make little commends — they're immature and they will slowly corrode your relationship.
5. Have Regular Relationship Check-Ins
Just like you should ask how they are every day, you need to check in about the big stuff too. Make sure that you ask, "How do you feel about us?" and if there are any big changes — moving in, getting engaged, going on holiday— make sure you talk about them regularly. It gives you both an important platform to air concerns.
6. Believe Things Can Change
Part of having positive conversation and communication is having a positive attitude. Don't approach problems as though they're impossible to solve. "I witness positive change all the time, and when properly motivated, the change can be lasting," licensed mental health counselor Monte Drenner tells Bustle.
If your partner is reaching out to you, be there to meet them. "Couples try to get each other’s attention throughout the day, whether it’s for support, conversation, interest, play, affirmation, feeling connected or for affection,” relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. “Each of these moments is an opportunity to connect with your partner. A person should look for someone who responds to them, or at least acknowledges them when they try to get their attention, because it shows that they are meeting your emotional needs —or at least trying to.”
Whether it's just talking about their day or trying to discuss big issues, recognize that they're reaching out and meet them.
8. Talk Things Through Before They Happen
If you know you have a stressful time coming up, touch base beforehand. When I had family stress, I said to my partner, "This is happening. I'm sorry if I'm a little all over the place for the next week or two." That way not only did she know it wasn't her, we had something to refer back to when I was feeling stressed and needed to talk about it.
9. Say "Thank You"
"A great way to build intimacy is expressing gratitude for something thoughtful your partner did that day," Samantha Burns, relationship counselor and dating coach, tells Bustle. So simple.
10. Discuss Your Sexual Fantasies
Being able to talk about sex openly doesn't just mean you'll both be more satisfied. It shows a real connection. "In my experience, partners who talk openly about their fantasies tend to have good communication, solid trust, and more excitement, which leads to great sex and nourishing relationships," sexologist and relationship therapist, Kelly McDonnell-Arnold, tells Bustle
11. And Communicate *During* Sex
You don't need to be into dirty talk to communicate during sex. Giving verbal cues is great, but moaning, leading their hands, even just saying what feels good are all great ways to make sure that the communication is happening in all areas of your relationship — bedroom included.
12. Use Feeling Language
I'm logical. So logical that, in times of stress, it can appear a bit dispassionate. It's not dispassionate — I'm feeling a lot— but it doesn't come across. If you're like me, try to focus on feeling language. Talk about how you're feeling and affected by things. It's done wonders for me.
13. Pick Your Timing
So often we bring something up when we're feeling frustrated or annoyed. But pick your timing. Don't bring up a big problem if there's no time to discuss it properly. Don't approach your partner with a bunch of small problems while the stressing about something big. You'll know when it's a good time.
14. Take The Time To Compliment Each Other
If you get too comfortable with each other, it's easy to only bring things up if they're bothering you. You start to get complacent about the good things and take them for granted, which can breed resentment. Keep pointing out what you appreciate and love about each other.
15. Never Stop Flirting
Communication doesn't all have to be serious, in fact keeping up the way you flirted when you first met is important to your relationship. "Couples who stop flirting are couples who stop anticipating," Certified relationship coach Chris Armstrong tells Bustle. "Things go blasé and what was once an unpredictable stroll is now an expected lull." Don't lose that first flirty feeling.
It might feel as though communication is all about those big, deep conversations. In reality, it's all about maintaining the little things. Having a strong foundation will put you in a much better position for those tricky talks.